A Virtual Visit to Dominical Costa Rica - Part 1
Part 1 – Arriving
Dominical’s claim to fame has historically been its world class surfing beach, Playa Dominical, or Dominical Beach. Now Dominical’s appeal to travelers has diversified to the extent that the little town has become a world class vacation destination of a rather unique sort.
Things haven’t really changed that much here over the last 13 years (since 1999), the time that I’ve been living in and around Dominical. The town is still pretty much made up of one main street that remains unpaved and varies in quality depending on when the last grading was done (and how much rain has fallen recently). The locals like it this way since it keeps traffic driving slow, and it has the side benefit of helping vacationers from more harried lifestyles to slow down in other more philosophical ways.
Dominical is shaped (loosely) like a slice of pizza. The rough outline of our pizza slice is drawn by the ocean on one side, the coastal mountain range on the other, and the Baru river at its widest point. The southerly part is where the coastal mountain range closes back towards the ocean.
The developed town is at the wide end of the pizza slice - whereas the undeveloped area is as it has been for years; pastures rimmed by rows of tall trees. It is speculated that this area will be developed for tourism replete with hotels, restaurants, tour companies etc. - all the trimmings of a thriving tourist destination. But for the moment it remains the quaint, backwards little surf-burgh that it has always been.
There is a notable gateway-to-the-south feel when you first approach Dominical. It used to be that you finally got to the end of the hellacious gravel road that spanned the last 25 miles south of Quepos. Not only would you arrive wondering about the health of your car (after all the ball-joint jarring, tooth loosening hits of the last hour and a half of driving), you’d wonder why anyone would have any interest in coming down to this part of the country. That old gravel road was good for the Dominical drinking establishments.
When you finally arrived to the intersection just north of the Dominical entrance, you would find yourself on smooth asphalt and an expansive “T” in the road. This large intersection, the bullheaded part of which runs up from the coastal highway to San Isidro de Perez Zeledon (there are at least 8 San Isidros in Costa Rica, so you’ve got to get descriptive with the “Perez Zeledon”), and the Pan American highway that then links to San José and on to Nicaragua in the north, and down to Panama in the south.
The experience is quite different now due to the 25 miles between Quepos & Dominical having been paved. The “we’ve finally arrived” feeling is now just a change of topography. You have driven through miles of palm oil farms and inland mountain scenery to arrive now at what has been described by some as “the real Costa Rica” - the lush and tropical southern pacific zone.
After driving through the intersection, you drive past a guard station and then over the bridge spanning the Baru River. You can look to your right and see where the mouth of the Baru dumps into the sea. If you look hard enough, and at the right time of the tide cycle, you can see surfers in the swell just to the left of the river mouth. From the Baru river south is the famous Dominical Costa Rica surf beach.
Shortly after driving over the bridge you have to be sure to not drive past the turn into the town. There are no obvious signs saying “Welcome to Dominical”, so I’ve heard it numerous times “we drove right past the entrance”.
You turn right into the town, drop down about 100 meters and then you can turn left to bump through the main part of town and on down to the beach, or you can turn right and drive back underneath the bridge that you just drove over and alongside of the Baru River.|
So, things haven’t changed that much here over the years. If you visited 10 years ago, you can easily find your way around. Life in Dominical pretty much revolves around surfing and the various ecotourism activities that are now in high demand up and down the southern pacific coast.
Whereas Dominical was one time exclusively a surf destination with a very off-the-beaten-path feel, there is now an equally feverish interest that motivates followers of adventure tourism and ecotourism. Dominical truly is the gateway to Costa Rica’s southern pacific zone, one of the world’s hot spots for epic surf as well as one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world.